Too Much Light

When my picture book, Bright Sky, Starry City was published in 2015, it was a love-note to dark skies. I saw it as my contribution to a movement that would inevitably lead to consensus. How could it not? How could humans simply refuse to see that the sky was a natural treasure?

I never imagined we’d still be fighting light pollution in the second decade of the 21st century!

Today, according to this BioScience article, our lights are among other threats to a little insect that is universally admired yet largely unnoticed–the firefly. Habitat loss, artificial light, and pesticide use were identified in a survey as the three most serious threats when scores were averaged across the eight regions studied: North America, Central America, South America, the United Kingdom and Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Australia.

In my memory there flickers a picture book about fireflies that speaks volumes about this crisis we’re in. A child goes out to collect fireflies. He returns triumphant, only to realize that the beautiful insects, trapped in his jar, are dying. They need to be out there in the night, where they belong. He releases them, and we settle into the sighing happy ending that is the hallmark of the most wondrous picture books.

Only today maybe we are the fireflies in the jar, blinded by the blue light of our screens, unable to change the lifestyles that are choking our planet. Reading Julie Brinckloe’s simple, direct prose today, the weight of the decades shifts the images:

I shut my eyes tight and put the pillow over my head. They were my fireflies. I caught them. They made moonlight in my jar. But the jar was nearly dark.

I flung off the covers. I went to the window, opened the jar, and aimed it at the stars. “Fly!”

What will that moment of awakening be, I wonder, in our collective history?

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